Institutional Fluidity

I am a student of history. That’s what I do. I love it. I love the digging and the finding. I love the aggregation of large amounts of information and working to put the pieces together into a story that makes sense of all of the stuff. Piles of papers, notes, clippings, books, texts, documents, in the last year these have become my life.

I know it is going to be some time, quite a long time, until a historian is really able to make something coherent out of the mess that is the 2016 campaign season, but I am going to put forth a thought as a jumping off point.

Let me say first that I do not think the two-party system is going anywhere anytime soon. The only way that such a thing might happen would be if as older party loyalists pass on, younger generations, such as millennials,  refuse the temptation to power that the two major parties provide. The easy part is resisting the temptation. What proves infinitely more difficult is organizing any coherent opposition, and for that to happen one must find a group of people with similar interests and ideas large enough to successfully shift the balance of power. With the splintering of various degrees of laissez-faire, libertarian conservatives, socialist-leaning liberals, and moderate pragmatists who do not allow a particular ideology to frame a debate on a particular issue making up a plurality of the electorate, especially over the last few years since 2012, it seems that the time is right for a real challenge to the two-party structure. However, due to multiple divisions among unaffiliated voters, it is improbable.

Conservatives lost their chance when the Republican party failed to heed the words of Barry Goldwater concerning its adoption of Christian conservatism that began with the rise of the Moral Majority of Jerry Falwell in the 1970s and the Christian Coalition of the 1980s-90s. Liberals have not yet lost their chance, but are working on it as the Democratic party perpetually juggles an infinite number of issues that always need to be addressed right now and places them all under the umbrella term “progress.” This is all assuming that the two parties continue appealing to their present constituencies.

Which brings us to the theory of realignment. This is not to suggest that this will be a realigning election, yet there are those that believe it could very well be. What I am illustrating is the fact that the two parties, though structural institutions, are fluid and forever amending themselves in order to garner more voter support. Fact number one that has to be remembered is that the primary goal of a political party is to win elections. In order to do so, a party must attract voters, and the only way to do that is to make the party attractive to the most voters possible in a given district, state, region, or country (the beauty of federalism). This one principle must be remembered when talking about political parties.

An example…

During the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Democratic party managed to splice together a diverse coalition of the white working class (labor unions), urban-ethnic minorities, African Americans, and traditional southern Democrats with memories of the Old Confederacy. This coalition managed to hold together throughout the Depression, World War II, and into the 1950s and 60s. With the progression of the civil rights movement, which had been carried on parallel throughout the period, the coalition reached its breaking point at the height of the movement, from the Brown decision in 1954 on integration and ultimately the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of 1964 and 1965, respectively. White racial conservatives in the South and middle-class moderates nationwide began leaving their party and joined the Silent Majority that supported Nixon who preached, not without a little irony, the same law and order mantra heard from the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. The realignment began in the late 60s and culminated in 1994 with the Republican takeover of Congress, three decades after passage of the CRA and forty years after Brown. Since Nixon’s election, Democrats have struggled to build a lasting coalition as strong as that built by FDR.

The story is really much longer and much more interesting than presented here, but this is all to say that the parties are always on the move, always looking for ways to attract new voters, and always seeking a way to win elections.

So in a nutshell, these are (some of) the historical forces at work that make third-party contests so difficult in American politics, which brings me back to my original point, making sense of this mess that has become the 2016 campaign season.

For the Republican party, it seems too simple. The party has been absent from the executive branch for eight years and is desperate to regain power. The most blatant demonstration of the historical forces at work within the party is the nominee’s choice for vice president. Donald Trump’s choice of Mike Pence, an unapologetic Christian conservative with distinctly differing social views than Trump, clearly shows the strength of Christian, social conservatism within the Republican party, without which the party cannot succeed in its continued want for power. Yet, many Republicans still are not on the Trump bandwagon, and conservative independent voters seem less than excited about the party’s ticket, not to mention traditional conservative intellectuals such as William Kristol, George Will, and Charles Krauthammer.

For Democrats, the party finds itself divided much in the same way the Republican party divided during the 2008 and 2012 elections with the rise of the Tea Party. Many find themselves, for one reason or another, dissatisfied by the party. With the party’s chase for middle-class votes, working-class Democrats (primarily white) find themselves wanting things that the party is not giving them. Party loyalists lay the blame at the feet of the opposition, but that is only because the opposition has had more success in swaying public opinion in its direction and rallying those voters to the ballot box in their favor. The party has been working for nearly fifty years to figure out how best to maintain its new coalition, made up of a diverse array of people from all walks of life and origins, and the primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has shown the divisions not only within the party, but among unaffiliated liberal voters the party wants to, and needs to, attract. The selection of Tim Kaine as Clinton’s running mate exemplifies the party’s strategic attempt to hold its constituency together. He is a southern Democrat (Barack Obama is the only Democrat not from the South who has succeeded in a national campaign since John F. Kennedy’s election in 1960, whose running mate hailed from Texas) who proclaims strong Christian values and gives a nod to the business community, while advocating for the rights of minorities, particularly African Americans and Latinos, as well as the LGBTQ community.

On the surface it all seems simple, but the study of society, especially one as culturally diverse as the United States, is rarely as simple as it seems. I have been working on a question concerning this for a solid year, and I am still finding pieces that fit somewhere in a puzzle that has no clear image as a guide to the solution. Different ethnicities, faiths, sexual orientations, genders, generations, and class interests (just to name a few) all bring varying points of view into social discourse and fuel the political dialogue necessary in order to bring to fruition the idea of self governance. Just like the two-system, society is fluid and ever-changing. The President stole a bit of my thunder in his convention speech when he noted the framers’ cause of forming  not a perfect union, but a “more perfect Union,” a union that is always looking for ways to make itself better. Can the two parties maintain their power and stave off the challenges presented by disaffected voters in order to achieve this noble purpose? It is too early to tell, but, as I said before, it seems probable.

At the moment, a plurality of voters claim no affiliation to either of the parties. How will the parties react, and, in turn, how will voters respond? I am suffering from campaign fatigue, but I will more than likely continue to pay attention, especially come November when I cast my vote. It will not be my vote I am thinking about, though. I will be looking at everyone else’s, too.









It’s Not About Him

I’ll start with a question.

Have you ever had your world rocked to its very foundation by a realization?

Then you can understand Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.

When I first heard that her manuscript was going to be published, I didn’t think much of it. However, as the opinions kept coming out concerning Atticus Finch, I started to feel a little more intrigued, not because I wanted to see how Lee portrays his racism, but the reaction that Jean Louise (Scout) would have toward him.

Maybe I missed some of the opinions, actually, I know I did, but the opinions I found and read all focused on Atticus and the comparison to the portrayal of him in To Kill a Mockingbird. Reading them, I had a realization. To Kill a Mockingbird is not about him. It never was. The book is about a little girl in the South, her worldview, and how those around her influence that view.

My intrigue led me to order a copy of Watchman, and just to be sure I remembered all that happens in To Kill a Mockingbird, I decided to dust off my copy and read it again. As luck would have it, the UPS man delivered Watchman to my house just as I was finishing up the last chapters of Mockingbird. I let it sit out on the porch in its box until I was done reading Mockingbird, and as soon as I read the last word, I went to the porch, picked up the box, opened it, and started reading Watchman. I did not look back past the title page.

It took me a little over eight hours to read through the 278 pages, taking a break to rest my eyes here and there and to eat some supper. When I finished it, I just sat in my papasan chair, with my feet up on the footstool in front of me, laid the book on my chest, closed my eyes, took a long, deep breath, and quietly said, “this is a masterpiece.”

It isn’t often I read a piece of fiction that gets down and dirty and displays the rawness that comes with passion-filled emotion. This one does. It is unpolished, unlike Mockingbird and, no doubt, the many revisions it took to get to Mockingbird, it is raw, and it is blunt. This, among others, in my humble opinion, is why the publishers and editors that first saw this manuscript in the late 50s did not want to publish Watchman. Think of the raw passion and emotion racing through the South in 1957. Then think of the polish of Mockingbird and how it eases into the subject of race without pointing out the difference between the racism that occurs in the legal system and that which occurs everywhere else, especially in the South of the mid-twentieth century.

Also, the language doesn’t follow the same rules that were followed in Mockingbird. Mockingbird is written in the first person, totally through Scout’s eyes. Watchman is written in the third person, but in lots of instances goes directly to the first person, through Scout’s eyes, in the narration, transitioning in the middle of paragraphs without any quotation marks or indention that would typically denote a change in perspective. That took a little getting used to, and I thought it a little weird, but as I got used to it and could really empathize with Scout’s and Lee’s train of thought, it worked.

It works beautifully as a portrayal of the human mind that is filled with emotion and passion, particularly when it comes to a realization that reaches to one’s very moral foundation and conscience. Think about it, when you are confronted with something that goes against a particular moral you have, emotions get high, even if you don’t show it. Your pulse quickens. The room gets a little warmer, and you might even sweat a little while you maintain some level of composure. Then your mind begins to race and to reason and to find the justification of your moral and how to defend your moral against that which has just confronted it.

You know that feeling well, don’t you?

Your mind scatters, going every which way, and it takes either an incredible amount of self-discipline or a jolt of some kind to bring you back down to earth. Lee gives us that same feeling through language.

It is speculated that both Watchman and Mockingbird are autobiographical sketches based on Lee’s life. I don’t know, maybe they are and maybe they aren’t. What I do know is that Watchman is filled with emotion. Lee pours her heart out on those pages. She gives the reader an insight into the intensity of human emotion and passion that I cannot remember seeing so strongly in anything else I’ve read.

Jean Louise’s realization rocks her core just as it rocks the cores of those who adore Atticus Finch and see him as something more than human. He is her father and her hero and her foundation. We get only a small glimpse of their relationship, but that glimpse gives us a lot.

“Equal rights for all; special privileges for none.” That phrase comes up in both books, just as a few things do, such as the description and history of Maycomb. This phrase forms the core of Scout’s social morality, and as said, she’s “color blind…always have been, you always will be…You see only people.”

She learned the phrase from her father, just as most everything else that stuck with her through life and made her the woman she grew to be. As said, Atticus, to her, is more than human. He’s her dad. He is her “Atticus.” She thought she lined her morality up right next to his, just like his, but as her uncle tells her, “Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious.”

Those words. I still get goose pimples as I read them and type them out here. The words would not carry the weight they do if Lee had not written To Kill a Mockingbird. Without Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman would not be what it is. It is a masterful portrayal of human emotion AND reconciliation. I have not seen that word, or anything resembling the same meaning, in any review or opinion written concerning this book, and that is a shame.

Long Spoons, Bowls, Food, and Feeding: An Allegory

I came across a short video today through the perusal of my Facebook feed. In order to get the full effect of what I am going to say, you’re going to need to watch it.


After watching it, I posed this:

“A pretty good illustration of what is possible, but can you see another, more self-preserving solution? Once you see it, can you see that the selfless action is just as productive as the selfish one? And that it is simply a matter of choice between the selfless and the selfish?”

Being struck by its simplicity and positive message, I began to think more deeply about it, and another nagging thought planted itself in my mind, and that led to this post.

Are you ready for the thought? Sitting on the edge of your seat with intense anticipation?

Here it is…

Where did the bowl come from and how did it come to be in that place?

I get it. I get it. That is not the point of the video. The point of the video is, that through selfless action, it is possible to meet the needs of others while having your own needs met at the same time. I respect that fact. It does, however, imply the above question.

Does the answer to the implied question matter? Will answering the question solve the problem portrayed in the video and get the food into the people’s mouths?

No. No, it will not.

You might even ask me, “if it does not matter, then why bring it up to begin with?”

I am glad you asked, because, as always, I have an answer, and that answer speaks to a larger issue beyond the video, just as the video speaks to a larger issue than just getting the food from the bowl to the spoon to the mouth.

I don’t know about you and all of your friends, but I am friends with folks from wildly varied walks of life. I have male friends and female friends. I have gay friends and straight friends. I have white friends, black friends, latino friends, and Asian friends. I have friends that were born in the United States and friends that were born elsewhere. I have friends who are cat lovers and friends who are dog lovers and friends who love both. I have friends who drink alcohol and friends who don’t drink alcohol. I have friends who believe marijuana should be legal and friends who believe it should not be. I have friends who are pro-choice or pro-life or have no opinion whatsoever. I have friends who believe the Confederate battle flag should not be flown by the state and friends who believe it should be and friends who do not care one way or the other. I have friends who own guns and friends who don’t. I have friends who believe guns should be regulated and friends who believe they should not be. I have friends who believe that marriage should be only between a man and a woman and friends who believe any two people can marry regardless of gender. I have friends who believe government is based on secularism and should remain true to that basis, and I have friends who believe government is based on the word of God and should remain true to that basis. I have friends who believe in the veracity of science, and I have friends who believe in the veracity of the word of God. I have friends who are atheists and friends who are Christians and friends who have other faiths and friends who believe there to be a higher power but cannot, or do not, give that power a name.

This is not a comprehensive list of differences that my group of friends have, but I think you get my point.

I want to focus on the last division of friends, those who are atheists, Christians or of another faith in a divine being or force, or believe in a higher power but cannot, or do not, give that power a name. I want to take this varied group of friends, some of whom are quite loud in professing the absolute truth in what they believe to be true and mix this debate into the context of the video, focusing on the bowl of soup itself.

The characters in the video do not ask how the bowl got to where it did. Their only concern is getting what is in the bowl into their bodies, and how to do it. One of the characters uses the spoon to feed another, but requires help to do so, which the other characters figure out. Then the other characters see that by sharing and helping, everyone gets fed. See? Simple.

Let’s talk hypotheticals for a moment.

Suppose one of the characters, instead of working to solve the problem of getting what is in the bowl into the body, decides to proclaim, through either divine inspiration or rational thought, that they know how the bowl got to the place where it sits. Then another character challenges that proclamation, and, before we know it, the original problem is forgotten because the characters find it more fulfilling to proclaim what they know to be true and work harder to convince others that their idea is the truth. Then, let’s say that one of the characters succeeds, after a lengthy amount of time, to convince all of the other characters that their truth is the right truth and they all agree on it. Already hungry and malnourished, they are even more so and more weak than they were before. They are so weak they cannot find the collective strength to pick up even one spoon together, but the original problem still remains, even though they found the truth.


Suppose we have the same instance as just above, one character proclaims an idea concerning how the bowl came to be where it is and another challenges their assertion. While the two are arguing over their ideas and the other characters get distracted by the debate, one of them figures out a way to get the contents of the bowl into their mouth and eats the contents as the others’ concerns remain distracted, and leaves nothing for them.


The same instance occurs. An argument ensues, taking attention away from the original problem. One of the characters figures out how to get the contents of the bowl into the body, tries to get the others’ attention, but fails to do so because they cannot overcome the zeal of the arguing parties. So the character waits passively until the parties come to a conclusion so the solution to the original problem can be shared, and by that time, all of them are too weak to utilize the spoon, even collectively.


The same instance occurs with the same argument, taking attention away from the original problem. The same character figures out a solution to the problem of getting the contents of the bowl into the body and jumps into the middle of the argument, and points out that they all can be fed. They all see the solution and that it works, but they are so zealous in their need to be correct concerning the bowl, they refuse to care about the contents anymore.

Or… (I know you are probably losing patience, but bear with me)

The same instance occurs with the same argument. Attention turns to the bowl itself rather than getting the contents from the bowl into the body. The same character figures out how to get the contents from the bowl into the body, jumps into the middle of the argument, points out the solution to the others, and the others reconcile their differences so that they can learn the solution to the original problem and take in the contents of the bowl and be nourished.


Well, these scenes can vary any number of ways, an infinite number of ways, to be sure. However, with all of those infinite possibilities, not a single one of them addresses the original and most pressing problem. They all focus on the bowl and its place rather than the contents of the bowl and how to get the contents from the bowl into the body. The problem is lost in a sea of disarray and all because of a disagreement that cannot, in all likelihood, be definitively proven one way or the other.

By focusing on the contents of the bowl and the need to get those contents into the body, a solution was found and shared. The solution took not only deliberate thought but also deliberate action in order for it be achieved.

Do not let loud voices that proclaim in one way or another how something came to be distract us from the central problem. Be deliberate. See the problem clearly as it originally presents itself and work toward a constructive solution that brings a benefit to all of the parties that are affected by the problem at hand.

With each constructive solution to a problem that provides a benefit to all involved, a little more peace finds its way into what can be a peaceful world. Pray or meditate to find guidance or seek answers to larger questions through rationality. However, do not let those practices distract us from seeing the problem and finding a constructive solution.

That’s kind of the whole idea anyway, right?

There is no doubt that there are plenty of questions that are implied by the video or assumptions made by the viewer and vice-versa. Anyway, that’s what I see when I watch this video. What do you see?


I keep reading and hearing things like this:

It is not a gun problem. It is a people problem.


It is not a gun issue. It is a societal issue.

This is typically followed up by…


Absolutely nothing.

And I have quite a few friends and acquaintances that are gun owners. Some are members of the National Rifle Association and others are not. All of them, I believe, are responsible gun owners. I have not seen or heard anything to the contrary to believe or think otherwise.

I also read and hear things like this:

Guns are responsible for this massacre and that shooting.


Gun violence is rampant in our society. It is a gun issue and a social issue.

This is often followed by loud cries for gun control legislation or action by the president.

Then it all goes away quietly after a time like a receding tide only to predictably return, just like the tide, following the next shooting incident.

Why is that?

Could it possibly be that both sides of the argument have some merit?

Yes. Yes, they do.

Violence is a societal issue. Violence is not just isolated to those instances where a firearm is used. Violence uses many tools, often the tool that will do the most damage at the time that is most readily available, be it a gun, a knife, a hammer, a car, a screwdriver, a shovel, a 2×4, a fist, a foot, a curb…anything really. Violence occurs when a white individual shoots a black individual and when a black individual shoots a white individual. It occurs when a straight individual beats a gay individual with a tire iron. It occurs when a man beats a woman with a belt or his fists. It occurs when a woman runs over a man with a car. It occurs when a cisgendered individual stabs a transgendered individual.

These are all violent acts using tools of one kind or another to facilitate those acts. Do any of these tools need to be outlawed? Of course not.

Do folks that want to use these tools for what they were designed to do need to be taught how to use them before they use them? Absolutely.

No responsible father is going to let their son wield a hammer or screwdriver without first showing the boy the tool’s intended purpose and how to use it correctly. When the father sees the boy using the tool in a way for which the tool was not designed, the father corrects the son in one way or another with the hopes that it will not be done again.

It’s like a tool that I have come to be able to use pretty well, a chef’s knife. First I was taught how to use it, how to hold it in order to prevent an accident, and how to position the fingers on my other hand to help prevent injury. I’ve even been harmed by myself and others that have carelessly used a chef’s knife, and I have the scars to prove it on each of my thumbs. With my education and experience of using a knife, both professionally and in my own home, I am able to show others the misuse a knife where an accident will more than likely occur if respect for the tool is not shown.

And that leads me to the point concerning these tools, especially guns.


I see pictures and videos of the use of firearms. I glean from friends’ conversations their appreciation of their firearms and how much they enjoy the activities in which they use their guns, be it hunting, skeet shooting, or going to the firing range for target practice and further training. Yet, of all of those friends that talk about their guns, only one…one of them routinely discusses the importance of learning and practicing respect for the tool. Only one of them regularly calls out the irresponsible use of the tool by other gun owners.

That is the one single thing I want to see more of when it comes to gun ownership. Just like me sharing my experience with others concerning the respect of using a household chef’s knife, why don’t gun owners share their experience with respect of owning, caring for, and using a firearm? You better believe that should I ever decide to post a video of me actually using a knife that a disclaimer concerning the years of practice and accidents and blood and lost fingertips and patience is going to accompany it, because I do not want someone that is inexperienced to see what I might do with a knife and decide to try it, especially if the blade is coming within centimeters or millimeters of the fingers on my other hand.

To quote Uncle Ben from the Spiderman movie:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Yes, accidents happen. There is no disputing that. Like I said, just take a look at the tip of my left thumb to see that. Remembering the accident, how it happened, what you were doing when the accident took place, and sharing the experience of the accident and lesson learned can, and most often will, help another avoid an accident, which usually occurs during a period of time when focus is taken from the performed activity and placed somewhere else. In essence, we share our respect for the tool in order that others may adopt the same respect.

I call on those experienced gun owners to share the respect they have for their firearms with others in the hopes that folks will learn the responsibility one must assume if someone wishes to own and use a gun. I also call on gun owners to hold other gun owners, gun sellers, gun lobbies, well…anyone that has anything to do with guns to hold each other to the same responsibility. Those gun owners I know are responsible, yes, but, as we can clearly see, there are those that are, shall we say, less than responsible with their firearms and need to be held accountable before an accident can take place. If you do not want the government doing it for you, then do it yourselves.

I’ve used the term respect with respect to firearms and the responsibilities therein. There is an altogether different area with which the term needs to be used in this writing.


What is the most violent action you can think of? For me, it the taking of another human’s life. This also coincides with the most egregious form of disrespect, essentially having no respect for another human’s right to live at all. This is not a coincidence. Violence of any degree equates with disrespect. Period.

Let me be perfectly clear. Disagreeing with someone does not automatically mean that there is disrespect. I disagree with people all the time. It does not mean that I do not respect them, their right to an opinion, or their right to express it freely. Why do I respect that? Because I have the right to believe that their opinion is wrong and the right to engage them in conversation and debate. Where disrespect comes into the equation is when anger ensues, and though not all anger grows into violence, it is always the starting place.

Talk about something that can be hard to do, well for me anyway. Talking with someone that I know in my heart of hearts to be wrong while at the same time maintaining my composure and respect for the individual and continuing to talk to the them rather than at them. In the past, admittedly, I have failed at this more than I have succeeded, but I am continually working to turn over a new leaf. If I find that I cannot maintain my composure and that the conversation is not going anywhere but in circles, I walk away…most of the time.

Anyway, back to the point…



Just like a child needs to be taught to respect the responsibilities of using a tool, a child must be taught to respect other people, even those that are different in one way or another…a respect of their basic humanity.

With respect, there can be no violence. Think about it. How can you commit a violent act against something or someone you respect? Even the smallest, most basic amount of respect, that people have the right to live without physical harm or mental anguish.

As I said before, anger breeds violence, and the anger that breeds that violence is the result of an animosity produced by an overt slight or a slight that is inferred by the recipient of a particular action or statement.

When I feel slighted and I can feel anger growing within me I know it is time to take a step back and regroup and compose myself or to just simply walk away from the confrontation. Not to walk away from it for good, because until a conflict finds a resolution most of the time, for me, that breeds resentment which can turn to bitterness and then to anger, which I have come to find is in no way productive whatsoever.

This, I firmly believe, is the key to finding a way to reduce violence. The first step is to look at yourself critically. There are not many things that are more difficult to do. Then ask yourself if when you communicate with people, are you talking to them or are you talking at them? Ask yourself if getting angry at the other side of the conflict, be it an individual or a group of people, is going to do anyone any good. Is it going to do anything more than raise your level of stress?

Then challenge another person to do the very same thing, and so on, and so forth. Like the bumper sticker says:

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Will violence among human-beings ever be eradicated? Probably not. Will massacres carried out with firearms and other weapons ever cease to exist? Doubtful.

Though I cannot help but think that every single impossibility that has ever become possible began small with seemingly infinite challenges standing in its way.

The wildcard is the same object as the challenge itself. Humanity.

An Apathetic Thought

It was hardly twelve hours after the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church occurred when I jumped online after having my first cup of coffee on Thursday morning. I saw the posted articles and statuses of folks on my news feed concerning the shooting and had a rather guilty thought.

See, the last thing I do most every night before I go to sleep is I tap on the email icon on my phone and have a final glance at any emails that have been sent my way. Usually, they end up being something that I do not read and I delete them, which is exactly what I did that night.

However, I recalled that one of the emails was a breaking news update from the New York Times and that the little preview stated that there was a shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.

I am going to share something with you that I think is strikingly grim and also not altogether uncommon…

My first thought was “oh great, another shooting…” Then I hoped that those I know living in the area were okay. Then I picked up the book I am currently reading, read some, and went to sleep. Then the morning comes…

Within seconds of checking my news feed, I was updated on the carnage that took place in that church in Charleston. A man (and I use the term loosely) gunned down a group of people gathered in worship and fled. The suspected shooter was later identified and found to be white, and the victims were identified and found to be black.

Within hours, really probably minutes, after the shooting, people began arguing with one another over various aspects of the incident they identified as most important such as the following:

The shooter was motivated by racial hate.
The shooter was motivated by hate of Christians and the Christian faith.
The shooter is crazy or mentally ill.

Hyperbolic rhetoric ensued on all sides. Exclamation points and capital letters sprouted all around, and people went about doing what they do best; they set up camp by drawing all of those with concurrent frames of mind to their side and made themselves distinct from the opposing side.

I don’t really want to get into the arguments of any side at this point other than to share my two cents put forth in the great social network debate:

There is one thing, and one thing alone, in my humble opinion, that we can glean from the news reports on this kid, Dylann Roof. He’s not crazy. He knows right from wrong. He ran in the hopes of not getting caught. His mental state should not be the focus of the discussion, but rather his motivations.

That was yesterday morning, and as far as I know, the shooter has not come forward and made public his motivations since he was apprehended.

What I want to focus on is my first thought upon learning that there was a shooting in Charleston…

“Oh great, another shooting…”

That was my first thought. THAT was my FIRST thought, followed by the side thought of hoping that those I know living there were okay and unharmed, followed by rolling over and going to sleep.

As I have gotten older and a little more mature (I stress “a little”), I have come more and more to abhor violence. I guess you could say that I am a pacifist, though I am not sure I would label myself as such. Yet even with my abhorrence of violent acts, I was able to rest comfortably and peacefully knowing that there was a shooting in another part of the world.

Why is that?

I am not a psychopath or sociopath. I feel empathy and sympathy. I even work to feel those “pathies” toward others with whom I do not readily identify or associate or know. Regardless of that work, I still find that apathy somehow finds a way into my heart and way of thinking.

One answer to the above question is that violence in some form or another is occurring anywhere at any time or at all times. If I allowed all of these acts of violence to keep me up at night I would never know sleep, or if I allowed these acts to constantly lay on my heart, I would never know peace. So in order to sleep or to find peace, I put those acts out of my mind.

I’d like to think that that is the answer I am looking for, but I cannot help but consider that there is another answer that is more appropriate, like this one:

Violence is occurring all the time in various places. It is part of the human experience, always has been, always will be, so why lose sleep over it?

That is probably a more apt response concerning my state of mind two nights ago, and I am pretty ashamed of it.

Even with the personal shame I feel, that is an all to common response, and it is accepted in society today. Think about it. An individual, such as myself, can willingly choose to feel apathy toward violence or an individual violent act and it is seen as acceptable and justified by another person or a group of people, and I am ashamed of that, too.

The Intersection

I have seen multiple headlines and statuses on social networks from any and all sides concerning this Josh Duggar fiasco. It is clear that no, absolutely no, middle ground can be reached because folks commenting on the issue, regardless of their stance, fail to put their thoughts in a way in which a sensible and rational conversation can occur. There is fierce anger which leads to an intense feeling of defense from the opposing side, and these both materialize within any side of the argument.

I am going to attempt to portray the two primary sides of the argument here, the “progressive” or “liberal” side (that I have seen) and the “conservative” or “traditional” side (again, that I have seen). Then I will share my thoughts on the issue.

Before I begin, let me share some posts and comments I have come across in the last couple of days from different points of view (the posts are kept anonymous. It is the words said that are important, not who said them.):

“Mike Huckabee Argues Josh Duggar Deserves Forgiveness” (article)

“He has gone off the rails”

“This makes me sick. I have no words.”

“Mike Huckabee: Even Though He May Have Fondled Little Girls’ Breasts and…” (article)

“Josh Duggar: God Has Forgiven Me for Molesting Young Girls” (article)

“I doubt it”


“they think their god forgives…their actions…so they expect us to believe that they’re absolved of obligation or responsibility…”

“The Duggars Aren’t Hypocrites, Progressives Are” (article)

“He is so merciful and I will continue to chose [sic] not to judge this family for their mistakes. Nobody deserves to be prosecuted in this way for actions he and his family have clearly tried all in their power to make right and have had a tremendous amount of guilt for.”

“‘Reprehensible’ is cheating on a test. Molesting little girls is a horrific crime. Enough of Christian conservatives telling us how to live.”

“Tell TLC to Stop Supporting A Child Molester By Canceling 19 Kids and Counting” (article)

“…And then they kept filming their show lecturing America?”

“It is poetic justice that Josh Duggar, member of a family with an overbearing aura implicitly forcing their ‘family values’ on others, would be caught up in a child molestation scandal that remained hidden for over a decade.”

“If they had focused on Christian redemption and forgiveness, the story would be different. But Josh and his family have been elevating themselves and condemning those who are different from them.”

“Why is it we are happy to receive God’s grace that we don’t deserve and are not willing to allow others to experience the same grace. If he truly repented and it sounds as if he did, who are we to say he doesn’t deserve that same grace?”

“Jesus loves those harmed by sexual abuse and Jesus loves Josh, this I know. We are not called to be the judge of those who walk in darkness. We are called to be their light.”

“I cannot believe so many people are dismissing this man’s sexual assault on children as if because he is Christian it is okay. It’s NEVER okay!! It was covered up by his parents and now he is free to continue ruining children’s lives. Would you be so quick to forgive a child molester that was Muslim or Jewish or Atheist? Nope. But a Duggar…. oh, he made mistakes it’s fine. Disgusting!”

“If they had focused on Christian redemption and forgiveness, the story would be different. But Josh and his family have been elevating themselves and condemning those who are different from them.”

**Just a note, these are the more civil comments, articles, statuses, and posts that I have seen**

One side of the argument portrays Josh Duggar and his family as hypocrites. Regardless of whether or not that is a fair label is not the issue. Rather, the issue is why do folks see them as hypocrites. The thought comes about due to their support and activity within groups such as the Family Research Council that lobby, encourage, and sustain the political and social idea of traditional values. The website provides the group’s mission:

“Family Research Council’s mission is to advance faith, family and freedom in public policy and the culture from a Christian worldview.”

The two primary issues with which the group deals are traditional versus non-traditional marriage and abortion. There are others and a link is provided so that you can view them yourselves, but these are the two that are most noteworthy.

I will not go into detail concerning the political and social friction that occurs between this, for lack of a better label, conservative group and liberal groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, other than to say that each receives and spends vast sums of money to support and further their respective causes, and that those in support of either group believe wholeheartedly in those endeavors.

The hypocritical view arises from the Duggars’ support of traditional values and their attempts to suppress non-traditional ideals based on a strict interpretation of the Christian faith and the idea of the sanctity of the traditional family unit, essentially that the institution of marriage insists on the union of one male with one female. Where bitterness comes into play is the insistence that a holy mandate such as the traditional Christian union and sexual immorality (though not exclusively these) need to be codified into secular law. Put the two together and the old phrase “practice what you preach” comes into play, and since Mr. Duggar failed to do so gives him, or those in support of him, little ground on which to stand when believers attempt to stipulate, dictate, and legislate how other folks choose to live their lives. I think that is it in a nutshell. I could elaborate more, but that would only belabor the point.

Those in support of Mr. Duggar point out that he was 14 when the incidents of molestation occurred, and since that time he has repented of his sin, worked hard to right his sin, and has attempted to lead a Godly life. As told in the nineteenth verse of the third chapter of the book of Acts, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,” (NIV), by doing so he has been forgiven by God and, thus, is to be forgiven by fellow believers, and further with verse 38 in the second chapter of the same book, “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,’” (NIV). Mr. Duggar has been held accountable by God. He has confessed his sin before God and his fellow believers, and he has repented of such. Therefore, he deserves forgiveness, because no one is perfect but only made perfect through Christ (Heb.10.14). Also since the United States is a country founded on Christian values, and that those values are given by God, the law of the land should reflect such (though neither in the Bible or in the Constitution can I find any reference for such). Again, that is it in a nutshell.

As I said, the conflict lies in the above two paragraphs in a nutshell, boiled down to the simplest points I can present.

The conflicting sides meet where personal faith and divine authority intersect with secular law and authority, essentially the law and authority as established by the people (Preamble) and ratified by the states (Article VII) according to the Constitution.

According to the Bible, Christians are to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you,” (Ephesians 4.32, NIV), and to forget “what is behind” and strain “toward what is ahead,” (Philippians 3.13, NIV). Also, Christians are told that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death,” (Romans 8.1-2, NIV). Therefore, according to these and numerous other passages concerning repentance, forgiveness, and salvation, Mr. Duggar is forgiven by God, is free of his sin, and is to be forgiven by fellow believers. This is just and fair according to one’s personal faith in Christ and his divine authority.

Where the hypocrisy comes into play is when that same gift of forgiveness is not bestowed universally. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins,” (Matt. 6.14-15, NIV). According to this verse, there are no conditions in which a believer in Christ cannot refuse to forgive “men their sins.” So we cannot pick and choose which sins we will forgive or which sinners we will forgive.

A primary question asked in this vein is how can this man be forgiven when in the next breath a man committing a wholly different sin is condemned, both faithfully and secularly? This is not an unfair question. Remember back to September 11, 2001 or the Katrina disaster in 2005 when self professed men of God proclaimed God’s wrath on our country for its moral backwardness and shortcomings.

Now, these men are not fringe elements of the Christian faith. Many millions of believers believe just as these two men do. Yet, many of those millions will come to the aid and support of Mr. Duggar and will forgive him of his sexual immorality, and yet, will, and do, pass judgment on those others deemed unworthy of such forgivenss for their immorality. This is where the hypocrisy lies.

The conflict is further intensified when laws based solely on personal faith and morality are promoted, legislated, and codified into secular law. There is a difference between the divine law of God and the secular law of the United States, or any secular nation, and it is clearly noted both in the Bible and in the Constitution.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The government has no role in religion, faith, or, really, any moral system beyond the protection of a citizen’s right to life, liberty, and property. Once a government begins to legislate an individual’s or group’s faith, it encroaches on the faith or belief of another individual or group. However, when one’s lack of morality encroaches on another citizen’s right to life, liberty or property, government comes into play. Yes, it is morally reprehensible, and morally wrong, to murder, kidnap, or rape someone. It is against secular law to do so because the rights of a victim of a crime are infringed. In the case of robbery, a citizen’s right to property is infringed upon by another citizen. In secular government, morals can only be legislated if the effect of one’s immorality infringes on the rights of another citizen. This is the crux of the First Amendment.

According to the Bible, Christians are to “submit” to “governing authorities” (Romans 13.1-5, NIV), “every authority instituted among men” (1 Peter 2.13, NIV), and “be subject to rulers and authorities…to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men,” (Titus 3.1-2, NIV). So, for Christians, there are two laws according to which we must live, the moral and spiritual law of Christ and the secular law of the country in which we live. One set of laws holds us accountable to God and the other set of laws holds us accountable to our neighbors and fellow citizens.

For those that disagree with the above statement, consider one question. Do you support a state-sanctioned death penalty for the sinful (or immoral) act and secular crime of murder, or really any secular penalty that provides secular justice?

I know the broader context of this issue will not go away soon. Friendships dissolve and families split over the central issue presented here. It does not have to be that way. All it takes is a little patience and a lot of introspection and consideration. A particular point of view does not have to be agreed upon, but should at least attempted to be understood.

There are other points and issues that have been raised and thousands of comments exist for any of them, but the crux of the argument is here. For a broader perspective, give this piece a read.

History: Getting All the Books, Reading All the Pages, Learning All the Stories

I am over 500 pages into the reading lists I have received from professors for the courses I am taking in the upcoming Fall. Mercifully, the professor for my summer class responded to my email asking him about a reading list stating that he would be sending out course information and readings (mostly journal articles) a week or two before class starts in late June/early July.

Over the weekend, we took a trip to the bookstore and I happened upon another title on my reading list and scooped it up, increasing the page count to over 3,000 with a few more titles to find before August arrives.

It’s always exciting reading history. No matter how much one may read on a given topic or period something new always pops up and adds to the narrative. Learning something new about a particular idea, person, or place adds to the understanding one has and adds color to the picture that has already been painted, making it a little more vibrant and adding a little more depth.

It’s a rainy, dreary day, so I am going to try and knock out a couple hundred more pages today. Though I am not particularly excited about the period into which I am currently delving, it is a period crucial to the understanding of other periods which I do find interesting. It is fascinating to see and to learn how the stories of some continually impact the lives of others that do not live in the same place or time.

History is an excellent reminder that we do not live our lives in seclusion. We are in it together for the long haul, and just as stories we act out day-to-day are influenced by past characters and ideas, so, too, will be the stories written in the future along with the narratives we leave behind.

Fascinating? It should be.

A Christian’s View and Questions for Other Christians

This has been building within me for some time. Some of it has come out in bits and pieces through various outlets. It is time, however, to put it out there in one place, in one voice, so that my thoughts and opinions on the matter are known and the grounds upon which those thoughts and opinions are based are understood.

We are in the midst of the civil rights movement of my generation. I will not bore you with parallels to civil rights movements of the past such as those of African-Americans (which continues still), women (which continues still), American Indians (which continues still), immigrants (mainly non-European,which, by the way, continues still), or any other group of people or ethnicity that is, or has been, disenfranchised by American society (which continues still…).

The movement in the headlines nowadays concerns the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer community/communities (LGBTQ). Like many that will read this post, or few as it were, I am acquainted with people that are part of that community as well as people that oppose the rights of that community as well as people that sit on the fence between the LGBTQ community and those that oppose the rights it desires and deserves as well as those that just do not give a shit one way or the other. This is one of the most difficult posts I have ever set out to write and complete for that reason. There are family members and friends that may not like what is written here. There are family members and friends that may like what is written here. I can only say to take it all as you will, because most of you know where I stand on this issue anyway.

Making the headlines in this movement most recently are a series of laws known as Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, most recently in the state of Indiana. Plainly spoken, behind the euphemism of “religious freedom” is the less appetizing phrase, the right to use one’s faith as a cover for bigotry and an excuse to discriminate against those with whom they disapprove. Bigotry. Discrimination. It really is as simple as that. (I fully expect that those in support of these laws and the bigotry they support will stop reading now, but I hope they don’t.)

For years I have tried to understand and appreciate the evangelical approach to this issue, but I cannot get there. Well, that is not entirely true. I understand the approach, but in no way can I ever appreciate it. I understand that the same faith that I work so diligently with to try to love and appreciate those around me, even those with whom I disagree or disapprove, is used as a bully pulpit to oppress our neighbors. I struggle with “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” (Matt. 7:12 NIV). I struggle with it daily. I am the most impatient person there has probably ever been. I make hasty judgements of others at first glance. I do not suffer fools lightly. These are flaws in my character that will likely haunt me until I am put in the ground. I admit it freely. This is probably my biggest and heaviest cross to bear, so to speak.

I have other crosses I bear on the same continual basis. Some of those are more well hidden than others. If you know me or have seen pictures, you can safely assume that I enjoy eating and being somewhat gluttonous on occasion. That’s a cross I bear. It is something with which I struggle. I can also be envious of those around me for their positions in life or stations. I’m not immune to the desire to covet, I mean, who is? I may even bear the smallest, whitest false witness. See, all of those, except for the gluttony, are stowed away harmlessly. People do not see them. I do not talk about them, and that is that. I am not perfect, have never claimed to be and never will be.

Before I continue further, let’s rehash the basis for the denial of certain civil rights for those within the LGBTQ community. Long story short (because the whole story boils down to this anyway) is that these people, these human beings, live in sin, according to various verses in the Bible, and sin is destructive to society. However (there is always a however, isn’t there?), their sin is apparently much different and worse than regular sin committed by everyday, hardworking, churchgoing folk, because it is an abomination. An ABOMINATION. A big. scary. fucking. word.

Why is that sin a big scary word?

Why is that sin targeted?

There is one reason, and one reason alone. It is an easy target. It has a clear dividing line. It is easy to separate the partakers from those who do not partake, or is it?

Let’s talk sodomy. As defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary, sodomy is “sexual intercourse involving anal or oral copulation.” So blowjobs, cunnilingus, and anal sex/penetration of any kind is sodomy, and sodomy, according to various verses in the Bible, especially Leviticus, is a sin. Now, we all know, but do not speak about, that there are some…well…kinky people out there. There are women who will willingly sodomize a man who has consented to it. Odd behavior? Yes. Sinful? Yes. It happens, but I bet anything that no one can confidently tell such a woman or a man just by seeing them hold hands or kiss. There are women that will provide consensual oral sex to their male partner and men that will provide the same for their female partner. Can you tell who those sinners are just by seeing them showing one another affection in public? There are men that have consensual anal sex with their female partners. Can you tell who those sinners are?

Can you tell who the sinners are?

I cannot, and, truthfully, neither can you.

Do you know why you cannot?

It probably has something to do with the fact that what those couples do in their private moments is nobody else’s fucking business. Their perceived sins are between them and their God. Their perceived sins have not one f’ing thing to do with the state. They have nothing to do with the business they wish to do. Their perceived sins have nothing to do with you, just like your perceived sins have nothing to do with anyone but yourself. Their perceived sins are their crosses to bear.

Probably like most of the straight people that read this, I have never had an in-depth conversation with anyone I know that is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer concerning their sexual experiences, preferences, or appetites. It is none of my business, just like my sexual experiences, preferences, or appetites are none of their business.

Since I, and I am assuming most of the straight people that read this, have not had an in-depth, candid conversation concerning personal sexual behavior or sexual acts with a member of the LGBTQ community, all of my ideas concerning those behaviors and acts are assumptions. All of your thoughts and ideas concerning those behaviors and acts are assumptions, unless, like I said, you have first hand knowledge from a primary source within that community. So, how easy a target is it? How easy is it to spot someone that has committed the perceived sin of sodomy?

The sin of homosexuality is, as its name states, unique to the homosexual community, though never specifically recorded as such in the Gospels by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John as being specifically said by Jesus, but only in terms of “sexual immorality” as stated here for example:

“For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, magic, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean,’” (Mark 7: 21-23 NIV).

Sexual immorality is grouped with other sins such as adultery, envy, slander, and arrogance.

A few questions.

Do those that wish to discriminate against the LGBTQ community wish to show the same force of will toward known adulterers? Known thieves? Known liars? Or, is it only against homosexuals and other sexual “deviants” you wish to treat in a bigoted manner?

In essence, what supporters of this backlash against the LGBTQ community’s civil rights movement are saying is that they are smart enough to distinguish sin from sin and apply degrees of severity of sin which do not exist in the New Testament. They are saying that they know, without a doubt, that God places sexual immorality above all other sin, except that which is unforgivable.

How utterly callous, pompous, and arrogant are these people?

Then there is the argument that homosexual acts are unnatural. They go against the laws of nature and the purpose for our creation which is to go forth and multiply, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it,” (Gen. 1:28 NIV). What about those good, faithful, obedient, believing Christians that practice any manner of contraception when engaging in consensual, traditional intercourse with their partner? Is this not a sin of equal bearing with homosexuality? Is it not just as unnatural? Does it not restrict the ability of a couple to multiply as commanded in Genesis? Are men that get vasectomies or wear condoms not as sinful as homosexuals? Are women that tie their tubes or use contraceptive devices or medications not sinful? Do these people not deserve the same discriminatory treatment as homosexuals?

What about the teenage boy or girl that wakes up after nocturnal emission (wet dreams)? Are they not privy to the same discrimination? Were their orgasms achieved in a manner other than multiplying their seed?

There is a reason why Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor. It is a simple reason, especially if one humbles themselves enough to see it.

We are not pure enough or smart enough to judge and punish sin. That is not the job or responsibility of a Christian. Our responsibility is to witness, to show, and to love. When we attempt to provide God’s judgement on others with whom we disapprove, we do absolutely nothing more than fill ourselves with pride and self-righteousness.

We do not tear people down for who they are. We love them and we build them up. We show them the way. We show them the narrow path. We do not use the power of the state to force the path upon them. Christianity and the values expressed within are a matter of free-will. One can choose to accept it or reject it. The reasons for acceptance or rejection are personal. The decision is between the individual and God, not the individual and you or between the individual and the state.

I am sick, literally sick to my stomach as I write this, because I know it will fall on deaf ears, so to speak.

I am sick of people using my faith, using what I believe to be the standard for love and peace to bring pain and tears and sorrow others.

Please do not try to witness to me. I do not want to hear the same song or see the same dance I have seen and heard to justify bigotry. Those tunes are old and the moves are worn out. They are the same tunes and moves that have been used for generations to justify placing one group of people over another for one reason and one reason alone. Pride. And “pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall,” (Proverbs, 16:18 NIV).

I will close with one final question.

What would Jesus do?

I do not know for certain, but can assume through His example of love and acceptance. He would not support these laws, not in the least.

Oh, and do not forget about the unclean language I have used in a place or two within this writing. If you are going to discriminate against homosexuals, then feel free to discriminate against me. Chances are I do not need what you are selling.

Normally Acceptable

The other night, I kept thinking and thinking about what I read before going to sleep and that prompted this post. I’m still thinking about it; wondering if there is a way to answer the questions I left at the end. I want to try to answer those questions and investigate this idea of normal, because, well, we all try so hard to individualize ourselves and separate from the herd. In small ways, we are successful. We differentiate ourselves and we give ourselves labels that provide some division, some distance, from others’ identities. However, most of us still remain within the realm of normal.

Why is that?

Why do we seek to be different, even in the most innocuous ways, but, at the same time, we voluntarily stay within the bounds of unwritten rules?

Is it a comfort thing? Is it an issue of stability and security? How do we set the boundaries on what is normal and acceptable when it comes to living out our individuality within a social group? How do we balance the scales between the consistency of normal and the variability of individuality? How do we measure and compare being different with being too different? Where do these unseen boundaries, unwritten rules, and unspoken measures come from?

Those are a lot questions, so maybe you can see why I am so jumbled up. Most of these are issues I think about, and have thought about, for a long time. Even for a group of professed nonconformists to normal rules of greater society, that group has rules that are unwritten and unseen boundaries that are not to be crossed if one wishes to remain a nonconformist. So, even in their nonconformity, there is conformity; there is a standard.

There are some that say screw the rules, let’s all live our own lives, but I believe that to be too simplistic. I do, however, believe that if one tries hard enough, one can find a niche within which to socialize and find a level of comfort, really, in essence, to feel, dare I say, normal, or would it be better to replace normal with accepted?

I am sure there will be more to come concerning this strand of thought. If you have all the answers, or even just one or two, feel free to share them with me and with the few readers that grace these posts with their presence.

The Panopticon, Santa Claus, and Stanley Kubrick

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am reading quite a bit and have begun to delve into the world and theories of Foucault. Currently, I am reading Discipline & Punish and just finished the chapter on the panopticon. There is quite a lot to wrap one’s head around within this chapter, but it is the final question asked that sticks with me, which demonstrates the point being made.

“Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” -Foucault, Discipline & Punish, translated by Alan Sheridan.

I suppose a little background is necessary to understand. Through the book, Foucault illustrates how the physical punishment of the Middle Ages up through the monarchies of the 18th century began to transform, with the thinking of the Enlightenment, into a more subtle form of discipline that focuses less on the body and more on the mind and behavior of the subject being disciplined. That is the gist that I get from it, anyway.

The panopticon is an architectural design that facilitates this relatively new disciplinary form, involving a circular building, hollow in its center with a tower in the middle allowing those being disciplined to be observed at any time and/or all times. The individual cells within the building that holds those being disciplined are able to be viewed at any time by the observer in the tower. However, those in the cells cannot see those who are surveilling them. The “major effect” being “to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent disability that assures the automatic functioning of power.” The tower, not necessarily being occupied at all times (though the observed do not know that), serves to portray an unending process of surveillance and observation.

The Panopticon Source

Foucault expands on the idea of the theoretical “mechanism” of the panopticon, “it is in fact a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use,” showing how the separation of those to be observed into individual units and the constant observation performed on, not only convicts in prisons, but also, workers in factories, military service members, students in schools, patients in hospitals, etc. The observing parties, be they prison guards, teachers/professors, military leaders/commanders, job foremen/supervisors, religious leaders, etc… represent the rules and protocols that the observed are expected to follow and work to engrain those rules and protocols into those being observed.

As I ruminated on this, the quote referenced at the top, and this idea as well, “…in order to be exercised, this power has to be given the instrument of permanent, exhaustive, omnipresent surveillance, capable of making all visible, as long as it could itself remain invisible,” I had a thought. Santa Claus. Yep, that was my thought. Santa Claus is the panopticon. Think about it. “He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”

So, the idea of the panopticon, or the mechanism, has become a naturally conditioned phenomenon in our society. There is a lot said for the perceived, unending surveillance perpetrated by the government. We wax endlessly concerning the infinite presence of Big Brother. We exclaim from the mountaintops the right to privacy. Yet, for any number of reasons, we allow ourselves to be observed or surveilled in the most intimate of settings in order to feel safe and to know that our society is secure and stable.

Any number of reasons. The primary reason is for stability. Word has it that in order for a society to function, there must be stability. In order to create stability, norms have to be established. In order for norms to be established, there has to be a specific consensus on what is to be considered normal. Once the norms are established, they have to be codified and the norms enforced. Once this happens, norms become rules. In order for the dynamics of power within a group of people to remain stable and unchanging, the rules governing said group must be developed, observed, practiced, and enforced.

What better way is there to enforce societal norms and rules than to teach young children about a man that “knows if you’ve been bad or good,” and if the young children are not good, their behavior will be rewarded negatively; in other words, they will be disciplined. If the children adhere to the rules, they will be rewarded positively with gifts and such. Even though Santa is not there, he is there, and he is always watching, ever vigilant to ensure stability within the group.

We are conditioned for this never-ending observation and surveillance. We accept it, most of the time, without question, because to question is to challenge the authority performing the observation, and challenging authority is to promote instability. Instability provides for the upsetting of the established dynamics of power within a group of people; it is, therefore, frowned upon. So to borrow a title from Stanley Kubrick of a movie that I have never seen, we operate in our society with our “eyes wide shut.” This is something to consider the next time Big Brother is brought up in terms of government surveillance. The government is a visible mechanism of power, and can, therefore, be directly protested. There are powers unseen and unheard that can, and probably should, be scrutinized and protested as well, though it is difficult to protest intangible power. These powers are submitted to voluntarily by most of us with our eyes wide shut, yet, they permeate much deeper than any surveillance the government can perform. Our very souls, our very character is affected by them, and, most of the time, is done so without question because of our conditioning to social stability and the normal that is enforced through them.

That leaves me begging a question or two that I will not answer here. If something is to be considered normal and stable, why does it need rules enforced in order to continue its stability? Doesn’t the necessity for rules negate the very meaning of what is to be normal and what is to be stable?